We’re counting on great things from you, Class of 2019

It’s been an exhilarating week for thousands of beachside families celebrating graduations big and small, marking milestones in the lives of sons, daughters, grandkids or even great-grandchildren.

Ocean Breeze Elementary School Principal Shelley Michaud summed up what many parents were feeling Friday evening as she prepared to usher 91 freshly scrubbed, smartly dressed sixth-grade graduates off to the next stage in their academic careers. Could it be, would it be possible to keep them in elementary school … just one more year?

It reminded me of a classic ad slogan from the 1970s, “If they could just stay little till their Carter’s wear out.”

Could we freeze time and let them enjoy playing made-up recess games and climbing on playground monkey bars to their hearts’ content just a bit longer? No, Michaud acknowledged sadly, it’s not possible. Time marches on. Her students must move forward to seventh grade and to all the challenges and uncertainties of middle school.

Some will head to DeLaura just across the parking lot from where the Ocean Breeze ceremony was held in the Satellite High School auditorium. Others will go to Hoover in Indialantic, West Shore in Melbourne, to magnet schools and private schools across the county, or even to Cocoa Beach to prepare to enter the International Baccalaureate program. A few will even leave our area, either by choice or because the military decided to move their family one more time.

They will play team sports and study new languages. They will have school dances and puberty will take full hold of their young bodies and their sometimes-fragile emotions. There will be triumphs and tears; it’s all part of growing up.

We can’t protect our precious ones from all the things they have to go through, but by making the choice to live in a place like South Brevard’s barrier island, we’ve given them an awesome community from which to launch the rest of their lives. Any kid growing up in one of our small seaside cities or towns is very blessed. Blessed with great schools, with teachers who care and with law enforcement professionals dedicated to keeping them safe. Parents sending high school graduates off to college in the fall can be proud of the quality of life they’ve worked hard to provide to their kids here on the Space Coast.

The past couple of years have seen some big changes in our Brevard schools – chain-link fences and electric gates, new drop-off and dismissal procedures, and limited access to our school campuses. Our kids not only participate in fire drills, but also lockdown drills. Millions of dollars that could have been spent on crumbling buildings or on arts education or on teacher raises had to be shelled out for school security. This is the brave new world – or should I say the scared new world – of education.

Baby Boomers might remember crawling under their desks and doing nuclear bomb drills in the 1950s and 1960s. Kids of the World War II era might remember war rations, and watching for German ships and U-boats off Florida’s coast in the 1940s. They survived that. Our kids who have grown up in the age of the War on Terror, both foreign and domestic, will be just fine, too. Kids are resilient.

My son’s generation, now headed off to junior high, gives me great hope. They have big dreams like every generation before them. The difference, an important detail that Principal Michaud pointed out in her speech, is that they have enormous hearts, way bigger than their dreams. They care about each other and they care deeply about our world – all of our world, not just their little corner of it.

Yes, we sometimes shake our heads at their lack of rough-and-tumble common sense, or roll our eyes at their participation-trophy sense of entitlement. They are definitely not the gritty Greatest Generation. They are not the indulgent flower children and they are not the status-seeking capitalists of the Cold War-era either. They are something we haven’t seen in recent memory. Yes, they are dreamers, but they are also doers, innovators and problem solvers. They don’t limit themselves by the conventional bounds of “we’ve always done it that way.” They are both passionate and compassionate. They are pioneers in this new digital community and global economy.

They are truly special people with huge responsibilities on their shoulders – and they know it. But unlike previous generations, I suspect they will put just as much thought into the question, “Should we do this?” as they do into the question, “Can we do this?”

If you’re 40 or 50 or in your golden years, please give these youngsters all the support and love you can. Impart every ounce of your wisdom into them because they’re gonna need it. They will be running things much sooner than you think. And they have the power to turn things around. Today we need them to fix our computers; tomorrow they will fix our world.

No, we can’t keep them little till their Carter’s wear out. That horse, as my Midwestern ancestors would say, is already out of the barn. We can enjoy every second we have with them. We can truly listen to what they have to say. We can be fully present with them and set a good example. We can offer all the young people in our community the very best shot at success.

Enjoy our special graduation coverage on Pages 7-14. The regular Arts & Theatre and Seen & Scene sections will return next week.

Congratulations to the Class of 2019! We expect great things!

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